Combining two features typical of Russian music in general and Rimsky-Korsakov in particular, this orchestral work carries dazzling, colourful orchestration and an interest in the East, which was figured greatly in the history of Imperial Russian and orientalism. The name “Scheherazade” refers to the main character in One Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade. This work is considered as Rimsky-Korsakov’s most popular work.
This piece is divided into 4 movements:
- Movement I, The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
The two memorable mottos in the first movement are representations of the protagonists, Sharyar (majestic and fearsome on bass strings and heavy brass) and Scheherazade (seductive on the solo violin over harp arpeggios). The movement casts Sharyar in the role of Sinbad through the alternate three climactic passages that are predominantly played by strings and brass, with three calm twilit episodes featuring both mottos. In ingenuity, the two identical interstitial episodes are simply breathtaking, with the solo cello swapping places with the horn, and the clarinet with the flute, while the oboe and the solo violin playing the same roles in the second episode.
- Movement II, The Kalendar Prince
The second movement follows a type of ternary theme and variation and is described as a fantastic narrative. The accompaniment changes the variations and highlights “Rimsky-ness” through simple musical lines that allow for greater appreciation of the orchestral clarity and brightness. Within the general melodic line, a fast section highlights changes of tonality and structure.
- Movement III, The Young Prince and the Young Princess
The form and melodic content in this ternary movement are the simplest in the piece. The outer sections contain song-like melodic content, with a tempo and a common motif similar to the inner theme, which is said to be based on the theme from Tamara. The movement ends with a quick coda return to the inner motif, which balances it out nicely.
- Movement IV, Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman
The finale combines the previous movements with new ideas to portray the shipwreck. It introduces the beginning of the movement and the Vivace section based on Sultan Shakhriar’s theme, repeats the main Scheherazade violin theme, and reiterates the fanfare motif. The repeated melodies remain coherent throughout, continuing the impression of a symphonic suite instead of separate movements. The final conflicting relationship between the Shakhriar theme (in subdominant minor) and the Scheherazade theme (in tonic major cadence) resolves in a fantastic, lyrical, and peaceful conclusion.
- Rimsky-Korsakov originally wanted a career in the Russian navy and attended the Naval Academy. He actively served the navy for years.
- Rimsky-Korsakov had perfect pitch.
- As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov did not enjoy his music lessons that much. He preferred to read a good book instead.
- All of the notes in Rimsky-Korsakov’s manuscript scores slant evenly to the right, making him the only composer to write music entirely in italics.
- Although Rimsky-Korsakov had little formal musical training, he was appointed as professor of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Conductor: Elim Chan
Performed on 2019 at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam